Married to Mohammed - Part IV

Friday, September 07, 2012 |  Elizabeth Blade

In Israel the issue of interfaith marriage is more complicated. Even though the country boasts a lot of Jewish-Christian couples (coming predominantly from the former Soviet Union), cases in which a Jew married an Arab are rare. Although there are no official statistics on interfaith marriages, some experts pin the lack of data on the phenomenon’s negligible numbers.

“The Central Bureau of Statistics is not dealing with this subject because the percentage of such cases is insignificant,” said Prof. Sammy Smooha, a leading sociologist and a specialist in comparative ethnic relations, indicating that Israel knows of no more than a thousand instances in which a Jew married an Arab since the creation of the state in 1948.

“Even if there is any information on the matter, I doubt it’s going to be published, firstly because the phenomenon would spark a lot of opposition among religious circles, fearing that the revelation of such data would encourage other people to leave their faith. And, secondly, because any such case is considered a ‘failure’ by the society that didn't do enough to keep people inside Judaism,” he reasoned.

Indeed, Judaism views inter-faith marriages as unfavorable, warning that “…you[r] children [will turn] away from Me to worship other gods...." (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). At the same time, the sacred text contains several positive examples of mixed marriages. Such was the case of Moses, who married Tziporra, the daughter of a Midianite priest; or the Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from Haman in the Purim story. She was married to the Persian King Ahashverosh.

Adjusting to the constantly changing world, modern Conservative Judaism doesn’t reject interfaith unions, encouraging acceptance of the non-Jewish spouse within the family, in the hope that such acceptance might eventually lead to the spouse's voluntary conversion.

However, in Israel such attitudes are rare. “Here, both Jews and Arabs oppose interfaith unions, clinging to their culture, traditions and Zionist/Palestinian ideology. So the refusal to marry a person from another faith is not perceived as racism, but rather as a cultural norm,” said the pundit, pointing out that interfaith marriages are more suitable for liberal and secular democracies.

According to the expert, the mixed marriages that do take place usually involve a Jewish woman and a Muslim man. “The women very often come from low class families. Some of them are prostitutes, others are disturbed people, escaping problems at home,” explained Smooha.

In other cases, the Jewish woman is generally an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, believed to be more accepting of such unions.

The pundit also argued that the fate of such couples is predetermined, with most of them moving to live in Arab villages, to avoid being rejected by the Jewish majority of the country.

But even if the woman manages to adjust to the new mores of the host Arab, Muslim culture, the couple still faces a major challenge. “How will they raise their kids – as Muslims or Jews?” asked Smooha. “The issue of identity is central here, especially considering the fact that the child would need to enroll into the army, since his mother is Jewish. Will the child be faithful to the State of Israel taking into account the Arab society he is living in – this is largely disputable,” he added.

Indeed, Israel National News reported in 2004 that “the number of children from mixed families involved in attacks (rock-throwing, etc.) against the Israeli Defense Forces during the ... intifada (roughly 1987-1992), was greater than those from pure Arab families,” pointing out that the trend may be explained by their desire to integrate into their Muslim society despite their Jewishness.

So how do these families end up? Cati and Lykova agreed that in most cases mixed marriages end in divorce. Other experts researching the question seem to agree. According to Huffington Post, mixed marriages have little chance to succeed, with the failure rate of such couples being 50% higher than same-faith marriages. “Since the rate for all marriages is on the order of 50%, this would imply an almost 75% failure rate for inter-faith marriages -- 3 chances out of 4,” the paper concluded.

“Divorce is always the easiest option but it’s not always the most suitable one,” stressed Smooha, adding that in Israel, mixed families continue to reside in their Arab villages, managing to function without filing for a divorce.

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